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Restaurants in danger of closing amidst COVID-19

 

March 26, 2020

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A Havreite walks back to his car Tuesday after getting his to-go order from the Duck Inn. Eateries and bars, as per Gov. Steve Bullock's order, can only provide food to go or delivery services. The order is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Editor's note: after this story was written, the U.S. Senate passed an aid package that would provide assistance to Main Street businesses. U.S. Small Business Administration has declared an economic disaster allowing businesses in all 56 Montana counties to apply for disaster loans.

Restaurants around Havre have suffered significant financial losses in the wake of COVID-19 and many owners say they could be in danger of shutting down entirely depending on how long this loss of business persists.

"I've been here for seven years and I've never seen it this slow," said Brooke McLean, a cook at Taco Treat, on Fifth Avenue.

She said there is serious concern about the restaurant being able to survive COVID-19 given the extreme drop in customers.

"Some days are better than others," she said. "Some days we don't get anything."

Some Havre restaurants started offering delivery and pickup services before Gov. Steve Bullock mandated that restaurants, bars and casinos be closed except for food drive-through, delivery and pickup services. Now no restaurants in the state, through at least April 10, can let customers eat inside.

McLean is not the only restaurant employee concerned about long-term viability in the wake of COVID-19. Rick Neuwerth, owner of Grateful Bread in the Atrium Mall, said he has similar concerns.

"Our sales are off by two thirds," Neuwerth said.

He said he's had to significantly reduce his employees' hours and he will take any relief package the government provides to keep his business open.

"I'm trying to keep myself going, and my employees going," he said.

The Lunchbox and Wolfer's Diner owner John Davison said his business is down to less than a quarter of what it was before last week.

"It's actually costing us money to stay open at this point," Davison said.

He said his number one priority is getting his employees paid, but that is becoming more and more difficult even on a skeleton crew working reduced hours.

"I mean a lot of these people, like, what are they going to do?" he said, "They don't have any income other than this. And there's a lot of people that live paycheck to paycheck."

"A lot of the help that I've had, I've had for a long time, they're really good people," Davison added.

He said he's hoping that the stimulus from the government will be able to help keep his employees paid, but he's still concerned that the business itself may not be able to recover depending on how long revenue stays so low.

"That is a concern for sure. I hope that we can weather the storm. We've been here for a long time and I'd hate for something like this to be the end of it all," Davison said.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

A sign saying "carry out only, sorry!" hangs Tuesday on the entryway of Grateful Bread in Havre. Restaurants and bars, as per Governor Steve Bullock's order, can only provide to go or delivery services. The order is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

He said he's not willing to give up and will do whatever it takes to keep his establishments open for as long as possible.

"If I have to completely run this thing by myself, with myself and my family I will," he said, "... I had my fifth grader running a floor buffer today and she thought it was great."

He said he's using this time to deep clean the restaurants and remodel in preparation for the return of business.

The Boxcars Restaurant & Lounge has seen a similarly drastic reduction in customers, but Owner Ashley Weinheimer said if things continue as they are, and the economy bounces back relatively quickly, Boxcars will stay open.

"The people that did come in, we appreciate the business so much," she said.

Weinheimer said the restaurant was in the middle of remodeling when COVID-19 concerns began affecting business, and she wishes she'd had a chance to put that on hold beforehand.

"I wish we had been more prepared," she said.

 

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